About 10 years ago the US Soccer Federation decided to start a new program on the boys side, the US Development Academy. There were many factors contributing to such a large undertaking, but in a nutshell, the United States youth soccer infrastructure was broken. We had a system that was more focused on competitions and winning versus truly developing players and providing a healthy environment for players to grow. For brevity purposes I will spare you my belief on how we got there, the important part to understand is we were there. Large club’s and tournaments dominated the soccer landscape. Players were playing 40, 50, or more games a season and experiencing training to game ratios far below what anyone would agree is healthy. Competition and winning ruled, player development was a distant also-ran.
Enter the Development Academy. To develop the program, US Soccer staff traveled the world and used top European and South American professional youth academies as their bench marks to create a US model that put each player’s growth above all else. The boys side of youth soccer now had a top down development platform to model proper club behavior and player development best practices. I think even US Soccer was surprised by the quick acceptance and early success of the program. For those of us who spent time in youth soccer and were witnesses to the prior madness, it was a refreshing and almost surreal change. After just a couple of years the only question on our minds was what about the girls?
Shortly thereafter the Elite Club National League (ECNL) sprang up, arguably in response to the vacancy the US Soccer Federation left by not providing the same opportunity on the girls side. The ECNL quickly became ‘the’ place for the top girls clubs in the country to compete. Well intentioned, like many youth soccer entities, it morphed into a giant money-making, competition structure. Simply put, the organization’s self-interest didn’t align with the best interests of the players.
I’m sure there will be many who would argue this point, but in my opinion the ultimate litmus test occurred recently when US Soccer finally announced the start of the Development Academy on the girls side, slated for the fall of 2017. The timing of that announcement was incredibly telling. Less than a year from the US Women winning the World Cup, US Soccer unequivocally stated that player development on the girls side needed a significant overhaul. The ECNL now had a tough decision to make. They could support the Federation or compete with it. A meeting took place between the two organizations to discuss common ground and collaboration. I was not privy to that meeting, but shortly thereafter the ECNL did NOT announce its support and instead decided to expand the ECNL to the boys side. The message was clear, the lines had been drawn, pick your side.
This situation perfectly exemplifies why US Soccer needs to be involved in the development of our youth players. It can’t be about the power and money youth soccer entities are capable of generating. It can’t be about winning games and Got Soccer points. It needs to be about the girls and their growth as soccer players and people. Like the Boys Development Academy, the Girls Development Academy will have guidelines for the number of starts for each player and the number of trainings per week. The GDA will only allow only 1 match per day with matches occurring no more than 2 days in a row. They will set strict coaching license requirements for staff and they will charge nothing for showcase events. Every club will be observed and evaluated on a regular basis and US Soccer scouts will be in attendance regularly to find the next youth national team players. This is a development structure designed with the players in mind, (not a competition structure) and it is long overdue. The Development Academy programs on both sides and the new mandates for birth year age groups and small sided games are examples of US Soccer taking their rightful place as our sport’s governing body and taking responsibility for youth soccer in America. I for one am ecstatic.
Locally the WNY Flash have just been accepted into the ENCL. It will be interesting to see if they decide to move forward with it. A betting man would put his money on US Soccer winning this battle and making the Girls Development Academy the top level of girls soccer in the United States. US Soccer has already committed the resources to the GDA and they are fully behind the program just like they have been on the boys side for years. US Soccer is in charge of the scouting mechanism for our girls youth national teams, the US Soccer Technical Director April Heinrichs and the Women’s National Team Coach Jill Ellis are both behind the GDA and were part of its creation. I am confident the GDA is the right place for our players. Empire United will be submitting our application for the Girl’s Development Academy in early May. When you look at our player production history, our coaching, leadership and facilities, we believe we have a compelling case for admission. We have already established the GSA program and will continue to run that program through 2016/17 so we are well prepared for 2017 in the hope that our goal will be realized to become an inaugural member of the Girls Development Academy.
As always, please reach out if you have any questions.